OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- An outreach and referral program for people experiencing stress-related problems as a result of the May 3-5 tornadoes, severe storms and flooding has been funded through a 60-day immediate services grant of $452,199 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"People's lives have been disrupted by this devastating disaster, and FEMA is pleased to provide this help," Federal Coordinating Office Robert Hendrix said in approving the grant application.
"Project Heartland, the same state agency that handled crisis counseling after the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah building four years ago, is coordinating the program," State Coordinating Officer Fred Liebe said. "It is part of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services."
Outreach and referral services, which will be provided at both the Project Heartland Center and five mental health offices throughout the affected areas, will involve 50 outreach workers and counselors.
Since May 4, volunteer counselors and staff from this agency have been available at the FEMA/state disaster recovery centers. "We have seen more than 950 clients thus far and have found that for many, the tornadoes have retriggered the trauma of four years ago," Project Heartland Director Gwen Allen said. "This double impact has been particularly devastating for people."
The counseling provided is short term, usually two to three visits. "We offer empathetic listening because the more people talk about their disaster experience, the easier it will be to get over," Allen said. "People who deny their feelings and do everything to mask their fears of what they went through -- these are the people who will have more problems.
"A particular target of Project Heartland's efforts will be children, who are especially vulnerable to emotional stress after experiencing a disaster. Their symptoms may include excessive fear of darkness or of being alone, regression to earlier behaviors, fear of strangers, and persistent nightmares, all of which need to be addressed as soon as possible after the event," Allen said.
Adult disaster victims may experience at least one of several normal stress reactions:irritability/anger, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, nightmares, sadness/depression, headaches/nausea, increased alcohol or drug use to name a few. It is important to deal with these emotional needs as soon as possible to prevent long-term problems.
Anyone in the 16 counties declared for Individual Assistance (Caddo, Canadian, Cleveland, Craig, Creek, Grady, Kingfisher, LeFlore, Lincoln, Logan, McClain, Noble, Oklahoma, Ottawa, Pottawatomie and Tulsa) seeking assistance for a mental health issue resulting from the disaster should call the Project Heartland Center at 405-858-7070 or 800-522-9054.